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Stark, realistic documentary showing poorly educated "mountain peoples" living in poverty and stricken with disease. Their solace comes in strong family bonds and the prospect of improved educational opportunities. (Prelinger, Rick. "The Field Guide to Sponsored Films." San Francisco: NFPF, 2006)
This movie is part of the collection: Vintage Educational Films
Producer: John Ferno, Julian Roffman
Sponsor: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Audio/Visual: sound, b&w
Keywords: Sponsored Film; Appalachian; Poverty
Creative Commons license: Public Domain
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Subject: Neil Young used this footage for his "Oh Susannah music video
interesting use of free archival footage. I would expect nothing less from one of the greatest songwriters of the modern world
Subject: Son title: ANSWER
The tune sung by the banjo player is usually entitled "Going Across the Sea," now a standard in bluegrass and "old-time" music circles.
You can read about this AND SO THEY LIVE scene and the two other films in the 1940 NYU Educational Film Institute "trilogy" in the book LEARNING WITH THE LIGHTS OFF: EDUCATIONAL FILM IN THE UNITED STATES (Oxford U Press, 2012), edited by Devin Orgeron, Marsha Orgeron, and Dan Streible. "The Failure of the NYU Educational Film Institute" is one of 22 essays covering the history of ed films.
The book has a companion website,
linking readers to most of the key films discussed in the book. (Ergo, lots of links to archive.org, natch.)
American Hero -
Subject: Gaze upon these wretched souls!
You know, for a “stark realistic documentary” showing poor ignorant hillbillies stricken with disease, this film is surprisingly short on ignorance, disease and (in a relative sense) poverty. Rather than a starkly “realistic documentary” this film is a window into the a particular point of view of the era it was made.
Through most of the film, the voice over tells a story that’s objectively in direct contrast to what is actually being shown on camera. We hear how the children are uneducated as they read aloud from English literature. We are told their bleak meal of pork and fat and cornbread saps them of their energy and vitality – this is after carrying the meal miles through the snow on foot. Kids today can’t even carry a lunch when they are chauffeured to school in an SUV! And the narration goes on about skin infections, pellagra, rickets; yet the children in the film show no signs whatsoever of having any ailments unless not wearing designer sneakers or jeans is an ailment.
Marvel at the ambition to learn, the lack of childhood obesity (yet they aren’t overly thin), the energy to do hard chores around the farm, trudge miles though snow – and at the end of the film do some kind of Irish jig to dad’s banjo. Sure, it’s kind of odd that dad then shares a smoke with his 8 yr old son, but hey, it was the ‘40’s. He was just going to start smokin’ in a few years anyway. Heck it’s a lot better than beating their children.
Note the abundance and variety of foods, the potatoes, corn, chickens etc. Sure, there happens to not be any “fresh vegetables” around; perhaps because it’s the middle of winter and there wasn’t a Wal-Mart nearby.
And note the early nanny state in the narration telling us “they just don’t know that corn depletes the land. They just don’t know what to grow…” Sure, well how is it they know about the Kings of English literature, Dutch Windmills and the beaches of Hawaii but can’t find a book on what to grow?
Sure, life is different, harder even in some places. Sure everyone isn’t smiling all the time, but heck I could film that today.
I could go on but I’m left wondering -- what is Alfred P. Sloan trying to “tell us” in this film? Maybe Mr. Sloan, the former CEO of General Motors is just peeved that they don’t drive cars enough there?
Subject: Son title
Can anyone advise the name of the song he plays and sings after giving the child a cigarette (!) ?
Subject: And we think we have it hard?
Anyone who thinks they have it hard should take a good look at this film.Very well done!